Java Mission Control

JVM Convergence

As Henrik Ståhl, VP of Product Management in the Java Platform Group at Oracle outlined Oracle’s JVM strategy at the JavaOne conference back in 2010, the high level plan presented to the JavaOne audience and on Henrik’s blog foresaw that the best features from HotSpot and JRockit would be merged into a single VM. Dubbed JVM convergence, this process was expected to take multiple years.

While the first fruits of this labor showed up in JDK 7, the bulk of JVM convergence effort has been planned for JDK 8. A quick glance at the planned JDK 8 feature list, which is available on the corresponding OpenJDK Project’s web site, shows a number of improvements in the JVM area, like the removal of the permanent generation, that have been implemented for JDK 8 as part of the JVM convergence effort.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until JDK 8 is released to benefit from a small selection of the new JVM features, as a few of them have, after careful backporting and testing, made their way into JDK 7 Update releases. One of the most notable of them is Java Mission Control, which is bundled with the HotSpot JVM starting with the release of Oracle JDK 7 Update 40 (7u40).

History

Java Mission Control’s ancestor is JRockit Mission Control, the production time profiling and diagnostics tools suite for the JRockit JVM. For in-depth background and information on the JRockit JVM and JRockit Mission Control, I’d recommend the book “Oracle JRockit: The Definitive Guide” by Marcus Hirt and Marcus Lagergren.

What began as an effort to create tooling to analyze how real production systems were using the JRockit JVM, evolved into an efficient, low overhead way to gather and analyze telemetry data of applications running on the JRockit JVM, allowing the development team to reproduce and address customer issues without requiring access to their source code, or their production environment.

Instead of using more traditional and invasive techniques like bytecode instrumentation (which has the obvious drawback that the so instrumented application being analyzed is no longer made up of the same bytecode that was running in production and exhibited some interesting behavior) or JVMTI, Java Mission Control relies on a ‘flight recorder’ feature in the HotSpot JVM - which is accordingly called Java Flight Recorder.

Recordings of JVM telemetry data can be produced by the Java Flight Recorder on demand, analyzed directly or stored for later analysis inside Java Mission Control using the Flight Recorder tool. The data includes an execution profile, memory allocation and garbage collection statistics, optimization decisions, as well as information on I/O and locking events. Given that its focus is on gathering data with the lowest possible impact on the running application, Java Mission Control is suitable for use in both development and production environments.

Availability

Oracle Java Mission Control and Oracle Java Flight Recorder are commercial features, which are available as part of the Oracle Java SE Advanced product. They are freely available for download for development and evaluation purposes as part of Oracle JDK 7 Update 40, as per the terms in the Oracle Binary Code License Agreement, but require an Oracle Java SE Advanced license for production use.

Getting Started

If you have downloaded and installed Oracle JDK 7 Update 40, or a later release, you can start Java Mission Control by running the jmc application in the bin directory of an Oracle JDK 7 Update 40 installation. If you are an Eclipse user, you’ll be greeted by a familiar looking user interface - which may come as a surprise.

Java Mission Control is built upon the Eclipse RCP technology. If you are interested in the background and details behind getting an Eclipse RCP based application into the JDK, I’d recommend the upcoming “Experiences from building one of the world's most distributed RCP apps” presentation at EclipseCon 2014 by Klara Ward and Marcus Hirt from Oracle. And of course, if you’d like to see Oracle Java Mission Control in action at EclipseCon, Marcus Hirt and David Lindholm have a session titled “The new profiling tools in the Oracle JDK!” that goes into the details.

Besides the standalone Java Mission Control tool, if you instead prefer to run your development tools inside the Eclipse IDE, the Oracle Java Mission Control home page at http://oracle.com/missioncontrol provides a pointer to the Eclipse Update site for the respective set of plugins. For the best user experience, it is recommended to use Eclipse IDE 3.8.2. Please note that in that case you’ll need to run your Eclipse IDE on the JDK in order for all the feature of Java Mission Control to work as expected. Detailed installation instructions are linked off the Oracle Java Mission Control home page.

Using the JMX Console

If you are familiar with the JConsole utility in the JDK, you’ll find the Java Mission Control JXM Console easily accessible, providing you with a superset of the functionality. For a start, it lets you detect and connect to Java processes running either locally on your machine, or remotely, through the Java Discovery Protocol (JDP) or given a JMX agent URL.

Once connected, the JMX console allows you to monitor and visualize the JMX data of the Java process, to take actions depending on the observed values triggering conditions, to store recorded data for later analysis, and, of course, to load it back into Java Mission Control to take a deeper look into the observed behavior.

Typically, the JMX Console would be used to continuously monitor a running process, by observing a small set of data of interest like the CPU load or heap usage. Once a certain condition is met, the console could be configured to dump the Flight Recorder data, for example, for later evaluation.

The Java Flight Recorder

When something goes wrong unexpectedly, it’s very important to be able to find out the exact circumstances in order to track down the root cause of failure. The Java Flight Recorder can be thought of as such a tool for the HotSpot JVM - it efficiently records information about the JVM and its environment, for as long as it’s running. When something interesting happens, the recorded data can be dumped and stored for later, off-line analysis, or it can be simply stored on an ongoing basis. It has a low performance impact, less then 2% for typical Java applications, when collecting data and events.

Creating Flight Recordings

In order to create flight recordings, you have to explicitly enable the Java Flight Recorder in the HotSpot JVM you’d like to monitor by passing a few additional flags to it upon startup. For details, please consult the extensive Java Flight Recorder Runtime Guide available at http://docs.oracle.com/javase/7/docs/technotes/guides/jfr.

Recordings can be timed or continuous. Timed recordings run for a given amount of time, and stop automatically once the time is up. When you create a timed recording in Java Mission Control, it will be automatically stored, downloaded and loaded into the tool for analysis once the recording completes. Continuous recordings, on the other hand, run until they are stopped by the end user.

While creating recordings directly from Java Mission Control is the easiest choice for developers, users who need more flexibility can use the jcmd command line tool, or pass command line flags to the HotSpot JVM to get the desired behavior.

Analyzing Flight Recordings

Once you load up a flight recording in Java Mission Control, you can look at a number of different areas like code, memory, threads, locks and I/O and analyze various aspects of runtime behavior of your application.

For example, for CPU-bound applications, the code view in the user interface will let you drill down into hotspots of your application, and discover optimization opportunities. If you’re tuning the GC, or tracking down memory allocation issues, then you can use the memory view to get a detailed view on individual GC events, allocation sites, GC pauses, etc. You can visualize the latency profile of your application by looking at I/O and Threads views, and even drill down into a view representing individual events in the recording.

Summary

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for Java 8 to try out Java Mission Control and Java Flight Recorder. If you’re curious about the Eclipse RCP based application in the Oracle JDK, as I hope you’d be, check out the jmc application in the bin directory, and give it a spin.

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